By Ginty Chalk
Business meetings have, generally, received a bad press. Pulitzer Prize-winning American author and columnist Dave Barry went as far as to say, “If you had to identify, in one word, the reason why the human race has not achieved and never will achieve, its full potential, that word would be ‘meetings.’”
Harsh? Perhaps, but nevertheless a sentiment that reflects the thinking of many business people today.
No matter how you view them, meetings are essential to the successful running of organizations, for purposes of communication, problem-solving, decision-making and assigning responsibilities and target dates. The trick is to know how to manage successful meetings.
In this context, Eli Broad, well-loved American philanthropist and entrepreneur, said that meetings are needed, but “I don’t like to spend time in endless meetings talking about stuff that isn’t going to get anything done. I have meetings, but they’re short, prompt and to the point.”
So how should successful 21st-century companies view meetings?
Consulting group BMGI has developed a process by which client companies can radically streamline the management, structure and duration of meetings held. Using this method, companies can make meetings shorter, focussed, results oriented and cost-effective.
Gone are the days when meetings drag on endlessly, often without a meaningful outcome and with no one responsible for auctioning decisions.
The BMGI approach teaches companies to run a daily departmental meeting according to five fundamental principles.
PRINCIPLE 1: KEEP IT SHORT
Preferably under fifteen minutes.
This is absolutely vital, which is why it’s listed first. Nobody wants to be involved in a daily meeting that is scheduled for an hour and consistently runs over time. Fifteen minutes may become challenging with a larger team, but with as many as twenty people involved, it is possible.
Another thing about time is this: start exactly on time – to the second. This means that the co-ordinator must be there at least ten minutes early to set up and latecomers will feel guilty and embarrassed.
PRINCIPLE 2: FOLLOW A STRICT THREE QUESTION FORMAT
There are only three things you need to know from each person in a routine operational meeting:
- What did you do yesterday?
- What are you planning to do today?
- Is there anything stopping you from getting your job done?
Systematically circle the room with each person answering these questions. At the slightest hint of a tangent or problem solving discussion, use the parking lot (see Principal 5 below).
PRINCIPLE 3: HAVE EVERYONE STAND
It’s important that everybody physically meets in the same place every day and stands during the meeting. Standing up stresses the importance of having a short meeting. Physical presence is important, but if a team member is physically out of the area, they should call in on a reliable phone line, be focused with no distractions and stand, like everyone else.
PRINCIPLE 4: UNDERSTAND AND RESPECT EVERY PARTICIPANT’S ROLE
Strong facilitation and control is key to meeting the meeting’s objectives and central to this is understanding everybody’s role in the meeting. Depending on the type of meeting, some people may talk for a disproportionately long time, while others will simply listen and say nothing, apart from ‘thank you’ at the end.
There also needs to be a recorder, to take care of the parking lot (see Principal 5 below) and other things people want to be reminded of. Normally, there should be no other note-taking in the meeting. A timekeeper is useful to remind everybody of the time as the meeting progresses.
PRINCIPLE 5: USE A PARKING LOT FOR SIDE CONVERSATIONS AND PROBLEM SOLVING
To help out with important discussions that will take too long in a short meeting, a ‘parking lot’ should be established. When the discussion starts to take a tangent, the project manager should step in and say, ‘okay, we need to put this issue in the parking lot’ and move on. This is best accomplished with an assigned recorder.
It is best never to ignore a parking lot item until the next day. If people start getting the impression that the parking lot is just a way to cut them off, they will not respect it, and subvert your meeting objectives. If you have time at the end of the meeting to handle parking lot items, use it. If not, schedule some follow-ups with only the people involved.
Running an effective daily meeting can boost a company’s communication efforts, while avoiding or eliminating the need for long, boring meetings that suck your time and energy. Following a few simple principles can really make the difference. Short meeting times, proper facilitation and knowing everybody’s role are keys to success.
This article was first published on www.businessessentials.co.za